Chronic pain in Gulf War veterans linked to changes in brain structure

Newswise — The brains of Gulf War veterans with chronic pain have larger pain-processing regions and smaller pain-regulating regions compared to their healthy peers, according to new research published in J Neurosci.

More than a third of Gulf War veterans suffer from widespread chronic pain related to a condition called Gulf War sickness. The underlying cause of pain is poorly understood, preventing the development of effective treatments. Ninneman et al. analyzed the brains of Gulf War veterans with and without pain using MRI. Participants also completed questionnaires about their pain symptoms, fatigue and mood.

People with chronic pain had smaller left and right insular cortices, two brain areas involved in pain regulation. They also had larger areas of the frontal cortex, particularly in regions involved in pain sensitivity and emotional regulation. Structural changes were more pronounced in people with more severe pain, but there was no relationship to fatigue or mood. These results indicate that the chronic pain of Gulf War disease may stem from changes in how the central nervous system processes pain, rather than problems with nerves or pain receptors.

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Article title: Pain, but not physical activity, is associated with differences in gray matter volume in Gulf War veterans with chronic pain

About J Neurosci

J Neurosci, the first journal of the Society for Neuroscience, was launched in 1981 as a way to communicate the highest quality neuroscience research results to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have immediate and lasting scientific impact, while meeting the changing publishing needs of authors, representing the breadth of the field and the diversity of authors.

About the Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians dedicated to understanding the brain and nervous system. The non-profit organization, founded in 1969, today has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and more than 130 chapters worldwide.

Ida M. Morgan